May 31 tornado makes history, largest EF-5 on record
NORMAN, Okla. – The National Weather Service announced a new record in Oklahoma Tuesday.
The tornado that started between Union City and El Reno and tore across the countryside has been upgraded to an EF-5.
The monster twister was twice the size of the deadly Moore tornado on May 20.
It stretched to 2.6 miles wide.
“Our initial analysis of the width of the tornado and the strength were not accurate,” Warning Coordination Meteorologist Rick Smith said.
Smith said, based on the damage the survey teams saw on the ground, the highest rating they could give was an EF-3.
“The tornado itself, when it was at it’s most intense, was in a very rural area,” Smith said. “Not a lot of things to hit. Fortunately.”
He said he knew it had to be more intense.
“It went from a small tornado but grew very, very quickly and became a large tornado,” Smith said. “So large in fact that it was difficult to even tell you were looking at a tornado as it got so large.”
A mobile Doppler radar close to the tornado gave new estimates of wind speed and width.
The data shows winds well over the 200 mile per hour EF-5 requirement.
“We started seeing the data and started seeing some very incredible things,” Smith said. “That became apparent very quickly that this is not even close. I mean it’s going to be well over that threshold.”
In addition, three weather channel chasers were also injured.
“The previous record was Hallam, Nebraska in May of 2004,” Smith said. “The width of that tornado was 2.5 miles. So the one south of El Reno was even wider than that.”
Smith with the National Weather Service can determine that it grew to a record 2.6 miles wide in a matter of seconds by looking at the tornado’s path.
“We think this tornado had winds probably close to 295 miles per hour,” Smith said. “It was there south of I-40 and east of Highway 81 and south, southeast of El Reno.”
When the twister started moving east, it had already grown to a mile wide.
At Highway 81 it was at its most intense with winds reaching almost 300 mile per hour.
It was hard for meteorologists to tell how dangerous the tornado was because there weren’t many things it its path.
If there is a silver lining, Smith said it’s that the tornado didn’t touch down in a more populated area.
“Had this tornado gone through El Reno, Yukon or even more into Oklahoma City, more into the city proper, we would have had major, major damage and issues,” Smith said.
Weather experts used mobile Doppler radar data to upgrade the El Reno tornado from an EF-3 to an EF-5.
All along, knowing they were witnessing a historic storm.
“Another May date to remember,” Smith said. “Add it to the list I guess, unfortunately.”